Spaniard advances to semi-finals and finishes in top spot for third time after a straight-sets victory over Stanislas Wawrinka.
Nadal clinches year-end No 1 ranking with win at ATP Tour Finals
LONDON // Rafael Nadal guaranteed he will finish 2013 on top of the world rankings with a 7-6, 7-6 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka at the ATP World Tour Finals on Wednesday.
Nadal arrived for the prestigious, season-ending event knowing two Group A victories at London’s O2 Arena would be enough to ensure he could not be caught by Novak Djokovic in the race for the No 1 ranking.
The Spaniard achieved that aim in typically ruthless fashion, beating the Swiss seventh seed Wawrinka 24 hours after opening the tournament with a straight-sets win over David Ferrer.
It is the third time Nadal has finished a calendar year at the top of the world – but the first since 2010 – and he celebrated with a jubilant jig around the court.
He is the first player to end a year at No 1 three years after his last season-ending top spot.
The 27-year-old Spaniard’s victory over Wawrinka also guaranteed his place in the semi-finals of the Tour Finals, with one group match against Tomas Berdych still to come.
Nadal’s return to the top is a remarkable achievement given he came back only in February after seven months out with severe knee tendonitis that threatened to cut short his career.
“I had a lot of emotions,” Nadal said. “It’s the perfect scenario to be the year-end No 1. After missing this tournament last year, it’s been an unbelievable comeback.
“Being No 1 at the end of the season is something really difficult as there are some unbelievable competitors out there. But without my team behind me, it would be hard to think about achieving this, especially after what happened last year.
“Stan played really great. He had chances at the end and I was a bit lucky, but I’m happy to be through to the semi-finals in the last tournament of the year.”
Since his return from injury, Nadal has won the French and US Open titles, as well as eight other tournaments, and a first triumph at the Tour Finals would be a fitting end to a memorable campaign.
Wawrinka has enjoyed the best season of his life, qualifying for the Tour Finals for the first time and winning his career-best 50th match of the year with a three-set victory over the world No 5 Berdych on Monday.
But Nadal had won all 11 of his previous meetings with the 28-year-old Wawrinka, without the loss of even one set.
Wawrinka played well for long periods, hitting twice as many winners as Nadal, but he could never deliver the knock-out blow, and 45 unforced errors proved his downfall.
A double-fault from the Swiss in the fifth game of the first set gifted Nadal the first break of the match.
He began to show signs of fatigue as the set progressed and Wawrinka broke back as Nadal served for the set.
To his credit, Nadal refused to let his aching limbs get the better of him, even when he trailed 5-4 in the tie-break.
He took the tie-break at 7-5 in slightly fortuitous fashion as Wawrinka stumbled while attempting a routine volley, allowing Nadal to pick him off at the net.
Wawrinka knew he had missed a golden opportunity, and he smashed his racquet in frustration before hurling it across the court.
His anger surfaced again when he complained to the umpire about Toni Nadal – his opponent’s coach and uncle; Wawrinka said the elder Nadal was talking too much from his court-side seat.
It looked all over for Wawrinka when Nadal broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set, but the Swiss hit back with a break of his own in the seventh game.
Another tie-break was needed to settle it and Nadal once again rose to the challenge, racing into a 3-0 lead before holding off Wawrinka 8-6 to seal the victory.
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